In Short: One star Michelin food; tender moist chicken with amazing flavour; new air-conditioned premises.
Eating at Hawker stalls has always been a unique part of Singapore’s food culture. Despite the environment being hot, devoid of air conditioning and uncomfortable seats, some of the best food in Singapore can actually be found at hawker stalls, because that’s where some of the cooks have honed their skills, and the dishes have recipes that span generations.
I think the little island nation of Singapore collectively celebrated, when two local hawker stalls were bestowed a prestigious Michelin One Star award. As a foodie, I was super pleased to see one of them awarded to such a humble man who created Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle receive this Michelin star, and do it with such a ubiquitous ingredient as chicken; it really was a good story.
Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle is owned by Chef Chan Hon Meng, who hails from Ipoh, Malaysia. Since his younger days, he has always had a keen interest in cooking, learning from a Hong Kong seafood restaurant head chef. In 2009, he opened his first hawker stall, Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, at Chinatown Food Complex in Singapore. Some say that it was the cost (a plate of his roast meat rice only cost $2.50 back then) but, I think that Singaporeans are very discerning when it comes to good food. Despite the veritable smorgasbord of great food options available around his stall at Chinatown Food Complex, his was one of the most popular, with legendary queues. Eventually, word of Chef Chan and his food made it to the local, and international, news where he was frequently featured in Singaporean, Malaysian and Taiwanese food and tourism TV shows, garnering lots of media coverage and attention.
Due to the overwhelming demand with queues spanning hours, in November 2016, he entered into a joint venture with Hersing Culinary and opened his first flagship restaurant, Liao Fan Hawker Chan, located at 78 Smith Street Chinatown. It features the same food as his original hawker stall, but housed in a comfortable air-conditioned restaurant, making it more appealing for people who have been wanting to try his food without having to sweat it out in the hawker centre. Sure, the prices for the same food are a tad more expensive than the original stall, but if you ask me, it’s a small price to pay for comfort eating!
Even though the restaurant opens at 10:30am, when we got there at 9:40am a long line had already quickly begun to form. While waiting for the restaurant to open, you can pick up a pamphlet which will give you some history on Chef Chan, the restaurant, as well as a description on what’s available on the menu, allowing to you make up your mind on what to order while still in the queue. Once the door opens, you will be ushered to an online ordering system on the wall where there will be someone assisting you with putting in your order directly onto the order system on the wall.
As with any Hong Kong styled meat restaurant, Liao Fan Hawker Chan offers a roast meat trinity of 3 meats, the roast pork, bbq char siew pork, and instead of the usual roast duck, there is Chef Chan’s signature Hong Kong soya sauce chicken.
Because the Hong Kong soya sauce chicken is the famed dish and namesake of the restaurant, you can order it on its own, or as part of the 3-roast meat trinity. The chicken is a dark, reddish-brown caramel colour, that comes from being cooked in a special sauce that gives it a balanced sweet and salty flavour. The chicken is cooked to sublime perfection, with moist, slippery skin atop the tender meat. I am usually not one to eat chicken with skin on, but in this case, even I made an exception. Turns out that most of the robust, savoury flavours are actually imparted on the skin during the cooking process, while the tender flesh is a little gentler in flavour. Hence, eating the roast chicken with skin on actually brings the whole dish together. What’s interesting is that the chicken also comes with a side of fermented soya beans, that imparts another level of salty flavour to the dish.
The roast pork belly is another of Chef Chan’s famous dishes. Unassuming in looks, compared to the other meats, it is so light and crunchy in its flavours. The crispy crackling even manages to maintain its crunchy texture long after it was served to us, making this dish addictive to eat! Beneath the crispy, roast pork skin there’s a good balance of fat and lean meat, which balances out the crunchy skin. It is almost like eating a meaty version of potato chips.
Finally, the BBQ char siew pork completes the 3 meat trinity. The glazed char skew pork was tender and juicy, well caramelised outside, and charred at all the right places. Sliced to the right thickness, it was robustly savoury, sweet, and gummy outside with not much fat inside. Combined with the special sauce seved on the side, it was a treat and delight on the palate.
The meats can be ordered on their own, or with rice or noodles. The rice is plain, white rice flavoured with special soya sauce, while the noodles are thin egg noodles cooked al dente. The rice and soya sauce could be eaten on its own, it was that delicious!
After all that meaty protein, we needed to balance things up a touch with some greens. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken and Noodles dish up tender kai lan. The thick stems are expertly blanched and are easy to bite into, and I love the smokiness and sweetness of the fried garlic that combine well with the oyster and soy sauce. If you are dragging along a vegetarian, they won’t be missing out with this dish.
Chef Chan’s food is a classic example of someone who is dedicated to his craft, and of simple food done well. What started out as a humble $2.50 plate of roast meat with rice and noodles, sold at local food centres, is now a renowned Singapore hawker food hero success story. There are a lot of places in Singapore where you can get a decent plate of roast meat or soya sauce chicken rice, but Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle is one of the better eateries, and certainly deserving of its Michelin star award status.